Monday, July 30, 2007

Kurdish Woman Raped Before Her "Honor" Murder

This, at Reuters, is just off the scale insane.

Here's a test case for you anti-death-penalty types...shall we give these brutal service?

And "honor killing" is too close to being a euphemism. It's a murder, not merely a killing. Some killings are justified. This is flat-out murder of the worst kind.

Egad, is "honor murder" too much like "homicide bombing"?


Blogger The Mystic said...

I don't get the whole death penalty thing. From what I can tell, it really only makes people feel like the "bad men" have "gotten what they deserved". I don't follow that line of thought.

Regardless of the argumentation over whether or not the death penalty is moral or not, I think it's clear that there's a better solution:

It'd be better for everyone if we actually made inmates in jails do work to support themselves. Jails should be just like little countries - they have to grow/raise the food they need to eat, and they need to export items of value in order to import that which they cannot create for themselves. They shouldn't be a drain on our society - rather, they should turn a profit.

So, for instance, if they can't grow food, but they could produce furniture, then that's what it takes to eat. If they refuse to work, they don't get to eat. Simple as that.

Not only is this beneficial to us, who they have harmed (maybe the profit can be used to assist those harmed, or their families, in coping with their losses), but also to the criminals.

I'd much rather create a jail system such as this than waste lives on the death penalty. I think that both of us agree that the current system sucks, but I don't think the death penalty will help it any.

I know you'll say that you're not saying every criminal should be killed, just the REALLY bad ones, but I still think it's just labor lost for the sole purpose of making us feel like "the bad people got what they deserved!", as if that helps anything or anyone whatsoever.

So, should they be given community service? Yes. Absolutely. And that service should be, in some cases, for the remainder of their lives. It should assist in helping to undo the damage they have caused.

9:43 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Well, seems that your main misunderstanding here is that you think this is about feelings. Nobody is interested in whether anybody *feels* as if bad people got what they deserved.

What is important is that bad people *do* get what they deserve.

You want to, basically, make them into slaves so that they can produce more good...a sensible approach for a consequentialist.

Not being a consequentialist, that sort of thing seems radically mistaken to me. These people brutally murdered an innocent person. Even if they can bring great benefits to society, that doesn't mean that they get to stay alive. Anyone who does such a thing deserves execution.

So, if we'd have caught Hitler after service for him, too?

8:27 AM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

I guess I just don't get the point of killing them. Personally, I don't think it's that much of a punishment. So they're dead - now their problems are over and everyone else has to live with the disaster.

That sounds lame to me.

8:39 AM  
Blogger lovable liberal said...

Execution or community service? Pretty much the apotheosis of false dichotomy...

11:45 AM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

My guess: his suggestion of community service was sarcastic to underline his thoughts that execution is the only appropriate punishment for such people and that anything less is like giving someone community service - a lame punishment, in his eyes.

That'd be my guess.

12:13 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Yeah, Mystic is right. It was snark.

12:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I *think* I recall you being more sympathetic to the procedural arguments against the death penalty--that it's not implemented fairly, that there's bias in the system, that innocents may be executed, etc...So I assume the argument here is just about whether some people deserve to die, ignoring whether we could actually give them what they deserve in a fair and just way.

I'm not sure, though, how you are so confident that some people deserve death, especially given your non-consequentialist leanings. Surely one thing these people deserve is to be treated as human beings. That means, I think, respecting their distinctly human capacities--including the ability to develop one's (moral) character, to develop as a person, and to give meaning to/find meaning in one's life. Killing someone (obviously) takes away one's ability to do any of this.

On the practical side, it seems unlikely that we could ever implement enough safeguards to make carrying out the death penalty something other than negligence--given the nature of the harm and the possibility of executing the innocent.

But additionally, and more relevant here, it's not at all obvious to me how we can consistently say we're treating someone as a human being, and so giving him the respect he deserve qua human being, while taking away any possibility of exercising or developing his distinctly human capacities.

1:25 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...


You're right--I actually weakly advocate a ban on the death penalty until we can get our procedural ship in order in that regard.

As for valuing the humanity of the criminals: even Kant said that we have an obligation to kill a murderer, even if we're about to leave him on a desert island that no one else will ever find, and on which he could live out his days.

Though the details of this argument get hairy...

A short route:
Do people ever *deserve* anything? Good or bad?

For example, is a year in prison--from a purely retributivist perspective--a reasonable punishment for breaking into someone's house?

3:06 PM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

Personally, I'm going to go with no. I don't think people "deserve" punishment. Of course, I don't think that there is any good way to define a "person", as in an entity that somehow persists throughout time, constituting a single being. I don't think it makes sense to punish a man in his 40s for something he did in his 20s. He's no longer the same person. It seems to deny the possibility, as rotgut said, that he has changed.

I think that people are basically chains of events. Each instance gives birth to the next. No, I don't consider it to be entirely causal - I think free will and random events play a role. But, it's not like you can't ever predict how someone will be in the next moment, or how he/she will act (and I realize the hardship language has with discussing this, since I have to use pronouns to refer to the "person" as though I endorse its reality).

The point is that I don't see any evidence for the case of the self existing, and therefore I think it's hard to say punishment is useful, since it's simply inflicting harm on a future being because the chain of events that led to its existence had bad actions as some of its components.

I think, however, that we can absolutely use the past to predict the future, and therefore putting a murderer in prison to keep others safe is surely a good idea. I don't think it's about what he deserves - just about preventing more bad things from happening.

I think more in terms of good events and bad events, rather than good people and bad people. So, is it good to do good things? Yes, because that leads to more happiness, and I consider happiness good (though it's not the sole thing I consider to be good). But is it good to do bad things to people as a sort of payback or punishment? No, I don't see how it is - that seems to just make things worse. Working for the greater good and towards improvement is what I consider to be good, and I don't see how punishment helps.

3:54 PM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

Also, I want to stress the importance of the fact that I believe killing isn't inherently wrong. You could kill someone if it was the only way you could stop him/her from killing others, for isntance. I just don't see any reason to put someone to death after we have successfully restrained the person from committing future atrocities (by jailing them, for example).

3:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I posted a comment that seemed not to show up, so apologies for a potential double post if it decides to show up.

I always thought the "let justice be done though the heavens may fall" was plainly wrong, and borderline psychotic. (Not as crazy as masturbation being worse than suicide, but close). But that may be because I have (broadly) consequentialist leanings.

I do think people deserve things, good and bad. It is, though, notoriously difficult to figure out the content of that desert, and I suspect is impossible to do in any remotely precise way in the abstract. We'd need to supplement our vague sense of what punishment "fits" a crime with some comparisons with other crimes/punishments.

All that aside, my point is just that the question of whether someone ever deserves the death penalty is far less obvious than you suggest. I'm not sold on the fact that it is in principle unjustifiable, and I tend to think the procedural arguments are stronger, but I don't think the answer to the first question is at all obvious.

I assume we can agree that torture is not an acceptable punishment, even for the worst criminals. It's not, I guess, because it's inherently degrading, or something like that. That is, we can't attach electrodes to someone's genitals and shock him while continuing to respect him as a human being. The question is whether the death penalty is like *that*. Can we put someone to death, cutting off any possibility of having a distinctly human existence, while still respecting him as a person?

Again, the answer isn't obvious to me.

4:33 PM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

My argumentation aside, I don't see why we should be obliged to respect someone as a person if he doesn't respect others as people.

He killed people, why should we continue to respect him?

Your beliefs that torture and the death penalty are wrong seem to lie on the presumptions that

1) We should respect all people solely because they are members of the species homo sapiens sapiens.

2) If we respect people as homo sapiens sapiens, that respect entails that we don't punish them with death or torture for any action.

What's your rationale for believing those, or am I missing something?

4:51 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Well, if you don't believe in *people*, I guess we have to go back at least one step to make any progress here...

8:51 PM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

Yeah. I agree.

9:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I don't see why we should be obliged to respect someone as a person if he doesn't respect others as people."

But this itself presumes the premise that respect as a person is *earned* via one respecting other people. That may be a defensible position (and reminiscent of the Golden Rule), but there are other grounds for arguing that we should respect all people as human beings.

One example of this is the belief that my treating everyone as a human being is reflective more of MY internal nature than the recipient's character or nefarious behavior. I hear this argument invoked often when people criticize our government for things like torture, even though the torturee may be the most despicable thing to ever walk the earth. ("Yeah, they're scum, but we're not".)

Just sayin'.

9:55 AM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

Right. I wasn't saying that it couldn't have grounds for its argument, I was just asking what they were.

I still don't get it, though - you say that treating everyone with respect, regardless of whether or not they have earned it, implies something about your character.

However, if they haven't earned it, and you say that you believe in "treating everyone as a human being", then it seems that it means you are committed to upholding the proposition that "If one is a member of the species homo sapiens sapiens, one deserves respect regardless of his merits."

I don't get why we've come to believe that being a human being is a sufficient condition for being respected. As Singer would say, that seems pretty speciesist.

10:03 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Kant says something like: it's personhood that really commands respect...but the only persons we know of are human, so we can talk about humanity as the locus of respect... But I think that's just shorthand. It's really personhood that's important. You'd have to be a nut to think that a rational alien species didn't have rights.

11:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, you have to drop your moral anchor somewhere...the Golden Rule seems fine, *homo sapiens* = deserving of respect seems fine too. I mean, did I miss the part where philosophy had arrived at a universally accepted moral structure?

However, your formulation:

"The point is that I don't see any evidence for the case of the self existing, and therefore I think it's hard to say punishment is useful, since it's simply inflicting harm on a future being because the chain of events that led to its existence had bad actions as some of its components."

leaves little room for moral agency either. In fact, it's so close to determinism that I see no reason why any single person would ever be worthy of *respect*.

In one case you're arguing that reciprocity is at least necessary for the granting of respect (or seem to be; correct me if I'm wrong), and in the other (by implicatoin) that there's really no point because the content of the future object of respect/lack of respect was mostly determined by a 'chain of events'.

1:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also think that *homo sapiens* = worthy of respect is a viable starting point, since the definition of what is homo sapiens has a broader current acceptance than do other criteria for respect-worthiness.

I'm not saying it can't be refined further, just that the 'personhood' Winston refers to (i.e. sentience, autonomy, an emotional life, the capacity to feel pleasure and pain) is more easily agreed to than other standards.

I would also bound the accordance of respect by saying that human beings are entitled to at least a BASELINE level of respect in terms of treatment, not necessarily to include that we hold everybody in high regard and repute just because they're human.

1:41 PM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

"your formulation...leaves little room for moral agency either. In fact, it's so close to determinism that I see no reason why any single person would ever be worthy of *respect*."

Sorry, it was confusing, I admit, because I was kinda just bracketing off my questions about the self and asking you about your ideas using your standpoint that the self DOES exist.

I see your point about having a baseline level of expect for a person. I agree with that. I should've seen that before. I suppose it's all about where you're willing to set that line - if you're willing to say that torture is never morally permissible because human respect trumps the potential to save lives (presuming, of course, the torture was necessary to do so - which you may feel is never the case which would be, as WS put it earlier, a "ticking time bomb" case).

However, as for my formulation, I think that if a "person" is a chain of events, you can determine that a chain of events is very likely to produce good outcomes, as it has in the past, and then you could respect the opinions of that person because you realize it's likely that the person will generate good opinions.

It doesn't require a self. Also, as for determinism, I did say that I didn't think it was strictly cause and effect, and that there was free will and random events interpolated in the chain of events. That excludes it from being deterministic, I would think. I don't think free will is compatible with determinism.

So, as far as moral agency goes, I do admit I don't think there are bad or good people. I think there are certain people who are likely to generate bad actions, and maybe you could say "bad person" in reference to such a person, but I think that saying the person is bad sounds too much like you're giving some sort of permanence to the person's badness, which I try to avoid because I don't think it makes any sense.

2:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, I think I see your point. However, it does beg the question, should we grant *respect*, or should we likewise *punish* based on ACTIONS, or not? How can we do that without actually punishing the perpetrator of the action?

I think I may see what you're getting at, and the law is actually steeped in your sentiments - e.g. singling out CRIMES for punishment, not PEOPLE, setting deterrence of future *bad actions* as a priority, "rehabilitation" as a means to prevent people from repeating bad actions etc.

That being said, if a person, or 'chain of events' gives no evidence whatsoever of producing any good outcomes, there really is no good reason to keep said person alive, unless you accept *personhood* as conferring at least a minimal level of respect, inherently.

I suppose you could posit that a person who has never done anything of value in his or her life could someday completely change, but given no evidence of that possibility previously, why expect something different in the future?

2:50 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Mystic, you gotta get over that Buddhist wackiness. On that view, people are no different than animals we might as well just shoot the ones who misbehave...

That goes for a lot of Western views of people, too, though...

3:33 PM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

1) "That being said, if a person, or 'chain of events' gives no evidence whatsoever of producing any good outcomes, there really is no good reason to keep said person alive, unless you accept *personhood* as conferring at least a minimal level of respect, inherently"

I disagree, I think that we are able to teach and to show people the error of their ways, and that the reason we keep them alive is so we can help them to see what we see and know what we know. Also, if they're restrained successfully from doing any further damage, I don't see why my jail solution would be unpalatable.

2) "you gotta get over that Buddhist wackiness. On that view, people are no different than animals we might as well just shoot the ones who misbehave"

I don't think we should shoot animals that "misbehave". I also don't know why people are put on the same level as other animals in this theory of selflessness. People are clearly different than other animals - they are much easier to communicate with, and therefore much easier to change (hopefully). So while the only recourse in extremely severe occasions might be to kill an animal that poses an imminent danger to people and cannot be pacified, I think that's even rarer in people - and, I'm not opposed to resorting to this if it's the ONLY recourse available.

I see no evidence for the absence of a self resulting in either of those two claims.

4:02 PM  

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